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published: Friday, December 07, 2012
AN INSPIRATION TO EVERYONE
FRANK JOLLEY | Staff Writer
When U.S. Olympic softball gold medalists show up for games, they are often the most popular players on the field.
They were not on Saturday at the National Training Center softball complex.
The Olympic heroes gladly ceded their popularity to a team of American war heroes in the God and Country Games, a softball doubleheader between the Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star team and the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team. A capacity crowd jammed the stadium field at the NTC complex to watch the teams square off and to pay tribute to both groups of athletes.
"We are honored to be able to host this group of true American heroes," said Dr. Dot Richardson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a member of the FCA All-Stars. "These men made a sacrifice and served their country and paid a tremendous price. They've earned our respect for the sacrifices they made. I've been able to travel around the world and represent my country playing a game I love.
"The members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee team have helped to maintain the freedom that allowed me and my other Olympic friends to play this game."
Members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) have sustained injuries resulting in amputations while serving in the military. Through extensive rehabilitation, members of WWAST have been able to return to competitive athletics again with the aid of prosthetic legs and arms.
"Our goal is to raise awareness of the sacrifices and resiliency of our military and wounded service members," said Matt Kinsey, a member of the U.S. Army in Operation Enduring Freedom, whose right leg was amputated below the knee. Kinsey, who took time between games on Saturday to thank the community for their support, gained fame earlier this year when he played in Major League Baseball's Celebrity Softball Game in Kansas City, Mo.
"We don't want anyone to feel bad for us," Kinsey said. "Instead, we want fans to see that even though we've suffered through some type of misfortune while in the line of duty, our lives even without limbs are limitless. We're grateful to have the chance to continue playing a sport we enjoy and we love the support so many people give us by showing up to watch us play in these exhibition games.
"Our fans are the best!"
Members of the WWAST and the All-Star team did not disappoint the crowd by putting on an impressive power display. Youngsters standing behind the outfield fences to shag home run balls got more of a workout than players stationed in the outfield.
The ballpark's 220-foot fences were no match for players accustomed to powering balls over much deeper barriers. Countless home runs were hit by Olympians who were known as singles hitters during their prime and by slowpitch professionals, including Johnny McCraw, who played for both teams to show off his powerhitting prowess.
One gold medalist on hand for the game, but unable to play, was pitching legend Jennie Finch. Proclaimed before the game as the face of fastpitch softball by Richardson, Finch is pregnant with her third child.
Even though she couldn't play, Finch sat in the dugout holding her youngest son, Diesel, offering support to the All-Stars. Finch's place in the lineup was taken by Casey Daigle, a form-er Major League Baseball pitcher.
Daigle is also Finch's husband.
Prior to the game, Finch threw out one of two ceremonial first pitches and spoke about the privilege of meeting and playing against the WWAST.
"They are amazing true-life heroes," Finch said. "They exemplify the ideal of life without limbs. They have sacrificed so much and because of their sacrifices, I've been able to accomplish so many of my dreams.
"Playing against the (WWAST), in my mind, is what it's all about."
The least important part of the field on Saturday was the scoreboard. Nobody in the All-Stars dugout seemed overly distraught when the WWAST won the first game 26-16.
Neither were fans, who showed up to show their appreciation for both teams.
"I didn't even look at the scoreboard," said Jerome Dean, a Clermont resident who said he served in the U.S. Army in the 1980s. "I don't think anyone did. There were no losers today. If you like softball, you got to see some of the best players who ever played the game and everyone had the honor of thanking a group of men who sacrificed so much for this country.
"It's an emotional day and one I'm not going to forget for a very long time."